A colorless, anise-flavored liqueur made in Italy, sambuca is based on the elderberry. The fruit of the elder, of the genus Sambucus, is the origin of the name. It's drier (see dry) than most potables of its kind and is frequently served with 3 to 4 coffee beans floating on the surface. The liqueur is ignited, which "roasts" the beans and infuses the liqueur with flavor. Sambuca negra is a dark brown, coffee-flavored version.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.